Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Wishes and Catching Up...

OK, so I'm a teeeensy bit late with the holiday wishes.  I hope you know I truly mean them.  I totally do!  I'm just really late in expressing it.  The pic above is this year's holiday card.  It's the first one since 2008 that does not have Sug in it.  We normally do a shot of the whole family, but those just did not come out this year. :(  This one was not too horrible, but it wasn't right to have the kids, me and the horses on the card and not the hubby - well, you know how well that would have gone off.

Did y'all have a good holiday season?  Looking forward to ringing in the New Year?  I have to admit, I've never been a fan of New Year's.  Midnight is waaaaaaayyyy to late for me to stay up, and you know, I just don't get the whole big run-up to one second and then... pffffffffffttttttt!  The air is immediately out of that balloon.  We are actually going out for the first time in forever.  Normally if we do go out, it's to a neighbor's place.  This time we're going to the home of some barn friends.  Their daughter is Sophie's age and the two are inseparable.  I hear rumors there will be a hefty amount of champagne.  Yippeeeeeee!

So here's what's been going on since we last chatted.  We've been doing some horse showing.  Yeah, I know, what dope starts seriously horse showing in the middle of a Northeast winter?!  This dope, that's who!  My trainer has had me doing 2'6" hunter and eq classes because she knows how stressed I get doing the 3' jumpers.  She wants me to get more show miles and feels that the lower level hunter and eq classes offer courses that are easier to memorize, taking that little stressor off my plate.  She feels that often trainers put students in classes they really are not ready for, and wants me to get to a place where I am relaxed and confident and bored silly before we move up.  The funny thing is that Sug is not a hunter type horse, and while it pains me to admit it, I am definitely not an equitation rider.

To add an element of excitement to things, I've signed up for the Marshall & Sterling league.  The plan is for me  to try to qualify for the year end finals at HITS-on-the-Hudson in New York.  I'm thinking of it as a smaller, lower version of the Big Eq,  It's got tests and everything, like the Big Eq classes have.  It's a challenge for us, because Sug is a jumper, and feels that trotting a fence or coming to a halt is an egregious waste of time.

Our first show around Halloween was less than successful.  Well, in one way it was.  We got out there, and we survived.  BONUS!  The second show was just Sophie and me, and was a great time, as it was just me and my daughter hanging out with our ponies.  We both rode pretty well, but more importantly, we spent a lot of quality time just chill in' with each other and James and Sug.  We wound up as champions of our respective divisions, but really, the best part of the day was just being together.

Here's a vid from our medal class.  Not perfect by a long shot, but we didn't totally embarrass ourselves, so I'm pleased.  Sug was so funny, she clearly thought that after the trot fences we were done.

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A couple of weeks after that Noah and I did a show in Gardnertown, NY.  So I had another really cool day hanging out with my other kid and our ponies.  James was a good boy for Noah and they got some nice ribbons.  Sug was her usually Sainted Mare self, and several people told me how much they liked her.  (Don't you love when people compliment your horse?  It's like when they compliment your kids.)  We did pretty well, too.  I beat Noah in the hack (crazy, as James is more of a true hunter than Sug) and then the Boy went and beat me in the M&S medal class, the one I'm trying to qualify for!  I was proud and a bit put out at the same time.

Fast forward to the weekend after Christmas.  Soph and I showed at Old Salem Farm in New York.  Holy crap, is that place ever nice!!!  I mean, really, it's crazy when most of the barns we show at are nicer than my house!  Sophie and James were so pretty together; they just seemed to flow confidently around the ring, both looking so relaxed and at ease.  Several people in the in-gate area commented on her riding and what a good boy James was (big cheer for the OTTBs out there!) and I was so proud!  They were champions of the Pre-Children's Hunter division!!!  At Old Salem Farm, no less!

Sug and I did not have a bad showing.  We didn't do as well as Sophie did, but we got some decent ribbons.  Our flow and rhythm around the course is getting better; we're not as choppy.  I'm getting better about putting my Big Girl pants and doing the numbers down the lines.  Sug doesn't have a big step, so it feels like we are going hell-for-leather and that feels a bit precarious to me.  I don't think I'll ever understand why you have to do a pre-determined amount of strides.  Why kill yourself for 4 strides when you can do a lovely flowing 5?  Whatever, I'm getting better.  It's so funny - at both shows people complimented Sug, telling me how much she helps me out, which says a lot about what a doll she is, and also about my riding! LOL!

So that about brings us up to date.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Human Calculator...

One of those "Jesus, take the wheel" distances.
"So much for things going well."  That's what I was thinking during my lesson last week.  Recently my lessons had been going well, I had a great session with my favorite clinician,  and then we did well at a show.  And by that I mean that I rode pretty well, not just that I got nice ribbons.  So, quite frankly, I was  expecting that things would be on an upswing.

What's that they say about pride going before a fall?  Not that I had a fall, but I couldn't find a distance if you gave me a ruler and a GPS.  I was adding or subtracting strides like it was my job, hence the human calculator comment. (Wish I could say I made that up, but I saw it on a COTH Form and laughed so much it stuck with me). I would either chip in and floss my teeth with her mane, or leave out a stride and hope she sprouted wings.  God bless her, The Sainted Mare has a very good sense of humor, and she did her best to deal with every crap distance I got her to.

Frankly, I wouldn't have blamed her if she had decided she'd had enough and simply stopped and dropped me on my butt when I got her to yet another difficult distance.  I have no idea why some days I can find a rhythm and pace and other days I pickpickpick in the hopes of finding distance, or I gun her and find myself asking her to leave hopelessly long.

I was starting to feel like Charlie Brown kicking the football.  You know: Good approach, get to that last crucial moment and...AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!  Clearly I don't have Lucy to contend with, but I'm sure you get my drift.

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So anyway, there I was, trying and failing and cussing like a sailor.  I was sharing the lesson with my daughter and on the car ride home she said to me, "Mom, you were really frustrated.  I could tell, because I've never heard some of those words before!"  Stellar parenting moment.  Really, and the nominee for Mother of the Year is...NOT ME.

Oh well, onwards and upwards.  Try, try again.  And again.  And again.  And again............

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Return of the Magic Canter...

Since my last post some fun things have happened.  One of my favorite clinicians, Eric Horgan, was in town and my friend Wendy set up a lesson for me.   If you've been following AWIP for a while, you've maybe read about some of my experiences with Eric's teaching. Have you ever had a trainer who just made everything seem easy?  Who cuts through all the confusing mumbo-jumbo and deconstructs things so what seemed difficult yesterday seems incredibly simple today?  Eric Horgan is that teacher for me.

A friend and I rode while Wendy and another friend, Gail, took video.  This was something new, but I could see the potential upsides. So Dawn and I warmed up like we normally would while Eric watched and the ladies filmed.  After we were done, Eric had us come to the center of the ring to tell him what we felt during the warm up, and then he told us what he saw.  He felt that Sug was not engaging that big ol' engine she's got.  He had Wendy show me a clip of her trot where he pointed out that her hind legs were not truly coming underneath and carrying her.  He then showed me clips of her canter.  The canter to the left seemed lackadaisical, while the canter on the right lead had more punch because her inside hind leg was more active. Being able to see what Eric saw while watching the video was amazing.  You know, that whole picture-worth-1000-words thing.

Eric then asked us to jump a small vertical off both leads.  The reason behind this was that our while our warm up gave him a sense of what we needed to work on, watching us jump a bit would confirm some things and possibly show him some other weaknesses.  Our warm up jumps pretty much established that we needed to get Sug's engine firing, and that we had (no surprise) a harder time landing the left lead than the right.

Eric's fix for us was shoulder-in, or what he called walk-with-bend.  We worked on that down the long side, with Eric telling me when to activate my inside leg aid, when to relax the inside rein, and when to give on the outside.  He reminded me to turn my shoulders so that they mirrored hers while at the same time keeping my hips facing forward like hers.  I mean, I know I should be doing those things, but you know how sometimes what you know in your head isn't what your body does. At one point he took the controls from me -- walking beside me and handling the reins and so I could concentrate on what he told me to do with my seat and leg aids. He'd tell me to do one simple thing, and BAM!  Sug would round up and step under, or bend around my inside leg more.

Once I got to doing the walk-with-bend thing pretty well, he'd have me "take her for a test drive" by asking for the trot.  Her walk to trot transitions out of the WWB exercise were sparkling, crisp and powerful  We had a working trot with impulsion and purpose.  When he had us due WWB into a canter depart, she bounded into the canter with such power it almost felt like she was bucking into it.

Now that we were working with impulsion, we began jumping.  Of course I went into what I call "calculator mode" -- adding and adding and choking up on her, basically killing all the impulsion we just created.  Forehead, meet palm.  Smack!  Eric told me to get out on the rail and get my "magic canter". Once I did, then and only then was I allowed to approach the jump.  As we bounded down to the fence, Eric repeated "The canter, the canter, the canter" in a hypnotic rhythm, effectively keeping me in the on the pace I needed.

Now, I know what you're thinking: I could just count strides or sing the Alphabet song to keep myself on a rhythm.  Nope.  I'm rhythm challenged, and apparently unable to multitask.  Math is hard enough as it is.  Trying to do math while remembering to keep my heels down, keep her straight, and not jump ahead - well, that's damn near impossible for this bear of little brain.  Clearly I need to win the lottery so I can pay Eric to do nothing but give me lessons and say "The canter, the canter, the canter" as I ride to every fence.

Not only was I jumping well, Eric had me jumping bigger than I typically do.  He has a way of giving you courage - not Dutch courage, but the kind that comes from doing something right and knowing deep down you can do it again or do something even better.  And off I went to jump a line and a bending line, feeling like "Hey, we got this, no problemo."  The video below is how it worked out.

I might not be ready for any Big Eq finals, and at some points I cringe thinking I look like a monkey humping a football, but hey, it's a start..

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Lot To Be Thankful For...

Hi all!  I'm sorry it's been an age since I've posted - not that I flatter myself thinking your lives have been on hold while you've waited with bated breath for my next next utterance!  I feel like a friend who hasn't picked up the phone to touch base in a while.  Hope everything has been going well with you. 

Here's an update of what's been going on with me, in "What I'm Thankful For" format:

I'm very thankful for my family, and that we're all (knock wood) healthy and happy.

The kids and I getting heading out to a friend's wedding.

The Sainted Mare and James are healthy (again, knock wood - lots of it!) and continue to teach us.  God bless these creatures, they've got such a sense of humor to put up with our shenanigans!  Sug and I did our first show of the year in October, along with James and Noah.  We got there expecting to ride around 3PM, and wound up getting on at 8:30. We rode outside under the moonlight, with the wind whipping through the cornstalks on the jump standards.  As you can imagine, it was, ummm, an interesting show.  I'm thankful we survived!  Noah and I showed James and Sug again a few weeks ago, and it was a much more successful outing.  I actually "flowed" instead of going around pick-pick-picking to each fence. WHOOP WHOOP!

Noah thanks James for the ribbons they won together
Good girl, Sug!

I give thanks that we have wonderful friends that share their lives with us.

I'm thankful we're blessed to be able to help others...

Bump, the blind cat my kids rescued from the street.

Me & the Mare, raising funds for breast cancer research at Ride for the Cure.
I'm blessed to have the opportunities I do in this life - many thanks to Horse Junkies United!

At the George Morris Gladstone Program

At Rolex with David O'Connor.

At Rolex with Peter Atkins of Run Henny Run fame. photo by HJU
 And I'm thankful that you folks are in my life!  The fact that you take time out of your day to read my stuff and comment still amazes and thrills me.  Thanks so much for sharing a part of your lives with me!

There's so much more to be thankful for, but I have get off my tush and start cooking.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Love, Me and The Sainted Mare

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Good Day to Save The Ta-Tas...

Bays for Boobies
The alarm went off ungawdly early on the morning of the Central/South New Jersey Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure.  Horse show early, if you get my drift.  As in, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-up-it's-still-dark-out early.  No worries! I
leaptbounded slid out of bed and blindly felt my way to the kitchen and the coffee machine. A swift jolt of caffeine enabled me to crack open at least one eyelid and I was able to do a brief check on the equipment for the day's ride: Pink fly bonnet? Check.  Generously donated ECOGOLD Secure saddle pad with the breast cancer ribbon embroidered on it? Check!  A quick text to my teammate assured me that Sug's pink polos, bell boots, and pink glitter were waiting for her in the trailer. I donned my pink polo, pink sweater, breeches (thankfully not pink - one has to draw the line somewhere) and boots and off I headed, second double shot latte in hand, to the barn.

The Sainted Mare was a tad surprised to see me so early, but a carrot or two convinced her it was worth her while to leave her stall to be groomed and wrapped.  My teammate and friend Marissa arrived with her trailer, with her horse Tucker anxiously awaiting a reunion with the object of his affections. Said Object eagerly loaded onto the trailer, impatient to get to...the haybag.  Didn't matter to Tucker, who sighed contentedly and gazed admiringly at his ladylove while she decimated his hay.

When we arrived at the event it was all systems go as we met up with our other teammates, Ethan and Chrisie, as we needed to pimp out our ponies in their pink finery.  Pink wraps and polos, pink glitter in manes and tails.  Marissa's mom had  made big flower and ribbon wreathes for their tails, so tails needed to be braided quickly in order to secure the tail arraignments.  Marissa had found a breast cancer awareness stencil with pink glitter online, so we stenciled a big old pink ribbon on the horse's rumps.  I added the initials M and a C on Sugar's butt in honor of one friend who survived breast cancer and one who is currently fighting it.  Once we were all pinked-up and pretty we joined the other dolled up riders and set out on course.
Pretty in Pink

It was a crisp fall day and the horses were on their toes and happy to be out.  Our teammate Ethan and his Paso Fino Gitano were the hit of the ride - every time we came to a checkpoint everyone wanted to meet the personable little gelding with the adorable way of going.  Gitano took his newfound celebrity in stride,  graciously allowing his public to adore him.  We trotted and galloped over hill and dale, and of course we came to The Sainted Mare's nemesis - water.  Sugar's philosophy is this: She is a jumper.  Jumpers do not ford water, jumpers leap over water.  So when we got to the itty bitty 2' trickle of water ambitiously termed a stream, I knew what was in store.

Sug (in t he rear)is sure this water thing is NOT a good idea.

Sug was the last in line, and as soon as she saw the water she started hemming and hawing, and working herself into a state.  Everybody else crossed the 2' stream with no issue, taking the easy way up a slight incline on the other side.  Not Princess Aquaphobia of Clan Drama Llama.  She rocked back on her haunches and  launched us straight up in the air, which brought us to the other side of the water, but left us facing a 4' bank.  With a burst of adrenaline fueled energy, the mare scrambled up and over the bank with me holding on for dear life and cussing a blue streak.  Thankfully Ethan was able to get all of this with his iphone camera.

Hanging on for dear life...

We finished the ride, put the horses away, and wandered over to the main staging area for a complimentary lunch and to bid on some cool stuff in the silent auction.  Local merchants had donated their time and wares to the cause - on offer were baskets filled with baby clothes, pet treats, and home goods.  One local carpenter donated a gorgeous tack trunk and bit box.  Show Jumping Olympian Nona Garson donated a lesson to the cause.

While team Bays for Boobies certainly had a lovely time on the Ride for the Cure, more importantly, the Ride raised a total of $41,040.80 for breast cancer research and programs. Team Bays for Boobies raised $2,295, and thanks to some wonderful folks , I was able to raise $590 for the cause.
Go team!  Bays for Boobies was the 4th highest team fundraiser.

I have to admit that at first I felt a bit of guilt, as it seemed odd to be doing something I loved in order to fundraise.  I mean, on one hand it felt like I was asking people to give me money for something I would do anyway (ride).  But then I thought on it a bit more: People run to raise money for breast cancer research, hence the Race for the Cure. I don't run (unless somebody armed is chasing me).  There are Swims for the Cure.  I swam in college, so I could probably get back in the pool and do one of these (but it feels a bit too much like work, you know?)  Turns out there are a variety of events, from bowling to cooking to golfing or driving to raise money and awareness to raise funds to fight battle against breast cancer.  So, in light of this, I was able to drop the guilt and just feel good that I was able to do something, however small, that might make a difference down the road.

Or trail, as the case may be.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who either donated to the cause or wished us well in our efforts -- your support is tremendously appreciated!

Photo by Beth Lewis.  Graphic blandishment by Pam Frisoli.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pretty In Pink? Heck Yeah! Bays for Boobies Rides to Cure Breast Cancer...

As you may recall, my blogging buddy Marissa asked me to team up with her to do the 3rd Annual Ride for the Cure to raise funds for breast cancer research.  Our team is called Bays for Boobies because her horse Tucker and Sug, our official team captains, are both bays.

Since I last wrote about our efforts, a lot has happened.  Two teammates, Ethan and Chrisie, have joined us, and thanks to a bunch of wonderful folks, we've done a fantastic job raising funds!  Bays for Boobies has raised $2,000 for the Central and South Jersey Komen Ride for the Cure!

WHOOHOO!!  I'd like to offer a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who has donated, and to everyone who plans to keep us in their thoughts as we try to help make a difference.  Thanks to your support Bays for Boobies is in 4th place in terms of funds raised!

The ride is 2 days away, and, well, lets just say we have been enjoying the HECK out of ourselves getting ready for it! We are gonna look like a Pepto Bismol explosion on horseback!  Marissa's mom made a  ribbon and flower wreath that goes in their tails, we have a breast cancer ribbon stencil for their rumps, hot pink ear bonnets, hot pink polo wraps, and hot pink bell boots.  

Sug will be sporting a specially embroidered CoolFit Jumper Pad with the pink breast cancer ribbon, which was donated to the cause by the wonderful folks at ECOGOLD. We also have pink crystal rubber bands to braid their manes with, pink glitter for their manes and tails, and we’ll all be wearing pink shirts/sweaters.  Even Ethan, who is very secure in his man-hood and would look handsome in any color you put him in.

I CANNOT wait to get to the event to see everyone all decked out in their best pink duds with all their pinked-up/pimped up ponies.  Rest assured there will be many pictures to share with you all!! 

Thank you again for all your well wishes and support.  There's still time to donate if that's something you feel called to do.  Click here to go to Sug's and my web page if you'd like to help us "do our bit" to eradicate breast cancer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Clint Eastwood Horse Show...

Finding the car? Easy peasy!
It's been two years since my last horse show.  If you've been following AWIP for a while, you may recall that last show was the one where I attempted to turn myself into a human lawn dart.  I haven't shown since then because of one thing or another - The Sainted Mare injured herself, I was kicked out of my old barn and needed to acclimate to life in a new system, health issues, my son was showing my horse, showing has never been that important to me.  For any number of reasons I just didn't show.  Then things changed and I kinda sorta thought I maybe wanted to show.

You know that kind of feeling, right?  The niggly thought in the back of your brain that's just a kernel of an idea until it takes shape and ultimately becomes something you need to act on?  That's what happened to me.  Watching my son show Sugar made me think I might want to show, and over time that thought grew and finally I told my trainer, "Let's do it!"  We settled on a local show as my comeback, and decided that instead of the jumpers I'd compete in the equitation classes.  My trainer felt that I'd be more relaxed as I wouldn't feel pressured by the need to make time or memorize a jump off course, and I'd put less pressure on myself as I am not an equitation rider, nor is Sug an equitation horse.  No expectations = no pressure, right?  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Not if you have my brain.

The weekend of the horse show coincided with a soccer tournament my daughter was in.  I spent the morning watching her team play, thinking it would help distract me and keep the show nerves at bay. It didn't.  Not really.  We then had friends back to the house for a pizza lunch.  No distraction here, either.  Noah and I headed off to the show and arrived at 3:30, ready to warm up and show around 4:30 or 5:00. Here's where things got interesting.  The classes started running later and later, as will happen at horse shows, and our estimated show time was pushed back an hour, then another hour, and then another hour, and yet another hour.  We were told we'd be showing outside, under the moon and arena lights, in weather that had turned quite chilly and windy ( a factor when all the fences standards are decorated with cornstalks.)

So here's where we get to the Clint Eastwood portion of this post...

I showed.  Despite nerves and delay and crappy circumstances.  When we weren't on the horses by 8:00PM I wanted to chuck it all in, but I didn't. Yay me.

I didn't completely suck.  There were some very nice moments in my courses.

I didn't fall off when I choked my poor horse into a ridiculously deep distance and she had to jump straight up from a near standstill. I almost went out the side door, but managed to scramble back in the tack.  The good news is this contributed to a marked lack of impulsion, which made it much easier to do the Halt/rein back test portion of the class which immediately followed that fence.

We had a fabulous time with my trainer and barn friends, laughing like loons over a late dinner of pizza that a barn mate's mom brought in.

Finding where you parked your car is not too difficult when you are one of the last people to leave the show.

The time - Riding at 9:00PM, 5 hours after we thought we would be.  By 9PM I'm normally in my fat pants, reading a good book and enjoying a nice sauvignon blanc. 

The weather - a 20 degree drop in temperature with gusty winds.  The Sainted Mare was definitely on her toes, bug-eyed and snorting, as was James, the OTTB my son Noah was riding. 

Cornstalks.  And wind. Need I say more?  Thankfully TSM and James kept their wits about them.  Many horses didn't, and we saw a few galloping riderless around the ring.

My riding.  I went from riding 3' courses well at home to riding 2'6" courses badly at a show.

My nerves.  I let them get to me.  And because I let them get to me, I lost focus. Instead of being a thinking rider who executed her plan, I became a reactive rider that choked up on her horse, trying to "pull back" into seeing a distance, instead of simply getting my rhythm and letting it take me to the fence and finding the distance out of the rhythm.

When I added so many strides my poor horse had to take off from darn near underneath the base of the fence and I almost fell off and had to had to clamber back into the tack after hanging of the side of my mare's neck.

I beat myself up quite a bit over my performance at the show, as poor Sug did not deserve the ride I gave her.  Despite the adverse conditions, she did her job as best she could.  I did not hold up to my end of the bargain, and I feel I let her down.  Thankfully, horses don't think like we do.  (I hope). 

In the meantime, I'm feeling glad that we got that "first show" out of the way and it's in the rear view mirror.  I know what I need to work on in terms of my riding and in terms of my mental outlook, so I can say that while this show did not go as I'd hoped, it was a valuable learning tool.

So, onward and upward!  Time to start planning for show #2.  Now, where did I leave that valium prescription...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Breaking Out The Bad...

Last night's lesson was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

Actually, the last several lessons have been really good.  (Smiling and doing a little happy dance.)  After about a year of working on my rhythm and making sure to keep my canter consistent over baby fences, I've gotten consistent enough to warrant moving back up to 3'.  In the past raising the height of the fences would have put me in the fetal position, but since I've worked on my mental approach and the whole consistency thing, the "fetal thing" wasn't so much of an issue.

My trainer built me up to 3' in stages.  I usually share lessons with my kids, which made sense since we were all jumping about 2'6".  Lately during lessons she'd raise one fence in a course  to 3' for me.  Then maybe a second fence would be put up to that height.  The rest would be the 2'6" my kids and I normally jumped.  I'd jump a course with the 3' fence or two. No problem.  Wheeeeeeee!

In the interest of honesty I should mention that the first couple times my trainer raised the fences on me she totally fibbed  and told me they were only 2'9".  I'm no expert, but she's the coach, so I believed her, even though they looked bigger to me. Finally during one lesson she raised a fence and it looked waaaay too big to be the 2'9" she told me it was, so after I'd finished Sug's post-ride grooming I snuck back into the ring and measured it.  Sure enough, it was 3'.  Ah-hah!  Mind games!  I can appreciate those!  She knows how I work, and bamboozling me into thinking I'm comfortable at 2'9" when I'm really jumping 3' is not a bad strategy on her part.  Well played, coach!

So, anyway, back to last night's lesson.  Soph and I rode together, and usually our Tuesday night lesson is mostly flat with some cavaletti work or exercises over small fences.  Last night the exercise was the "circle of death" exercise, where you ride in a circle over jumps working on rhythm, staying the center of the fence, and getting the horse to land on the correct lead.  My trainer had complicated things by making the fences into ridiculously small targets - a flower box and two bales of hay.  First we jumped the one hay bale, working on getting a rhythm and making sure we could get our horses to the middle of an obstacle only 3' wide. Then we did the hay bale to the flower box. Then the hay bale to flower box to the second hay bale.

Sounds easy, but it ain't.  Luckily for me, I'd geeked out yesterday and had read Amanda Steege's article on nailing your lead after a fence in the November issue of Practical Horseman. Amanda advocates making sure you look up and across the fence in the direction you want to go, and that you close your fingers around the rein on the side of the lead you want as your horse prepares to take off, while you apply slight pressure with the opposite leg and step into that heel to move the horse's haunches over and cue him to land with the correct hind leg first.

I'd also watched a little while I was on the treadmill at lunch.  Hope Glynn's video on "Making the Most of Your Turns on Course" was super helpful.  She demonstrated how making a good square turn to a fence sets the horse up for a good jump.  She also showed how fading in or out on the turn affects the horse's landing and approach to the the next obstacle, and thus affects balance and smoothness and your distance, as well as time if you're a jumper.

Well, DUUUUUHHHH, right??  I mean, I should know this stuff, right?  But you know how sometimes you get to the barn after a long, crappy day at work, you've fought rush hour traffic and somehow all the stuff you should know doesn't seem to come out in your ride?  I just read a blog post on Eventing Nation by Denny Emerson's student Lila Gendal on Being More Present and it touches on this.

So last night, I was present during my ride, and I nailed that damn circle of death exercise, right from the get-go!  And what made it even better was that my daughter had trouble with it for a while, and so did my trainer's daughter (a fabulous little pony jock with several trips to pony finals under her belt by age 9).  My trainer was telling the girls to watch me (watch me!!!) and how I set up my turns, how I used my outside aids, and how I got Sug to the middle of each fence. LALALALALALA- time for the mounted happy dance!!!! (I know, real mature, huh? Great parenting moment, right?  Pffffftttttt!!!!  Sometimes Mom gets to win! LOL.)

Yeah, I was getting high on my big, bad self.  Got my strut back on, feeling like a badass!  That's me, vanquisher of flower boxes, slayer of hay bales.  Bring on that 3' course, baby!  I'll kill that muthah!!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bays for Boobies

Next time we'll be wearing pink and Riding for the Cure!
Dear Friends of AWIP,

I hesitated before writing this post, because you are friends and there's a trust factor there and I don't want you to feel I've ever abused your trust.  However, after doing some serious thinking, I feel strongly enough about this that I'm going to go ahead and post this.

As you may know, in the United States, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes.  We’ve all known someone – a friend, family member, or colleague – who has been affected by this disease.  Often when a friend or loved one tells us they are facing this particular challenge, we feel helpless to do anything.  I know i felt that way when a dear friend shared her diagnosis with me.

I would like to do something, however small, to help end this horrible disease, and so Sug and I (together with our friends Marissa and Tucker from Tucker the Wunderkind) are participating in the Ride for the Cure Central and South Jersey on Sunday, October 20, 2013  - a trail ride to help end breast cancer forever.  We've called our team "Bays for Boobies." Others (read: “normal, non-horsie people”) might participate in one of the Komen Race for the Cure run/walk events, but you know I don’t run anywhere unless someone is chasing me so we are doing it this way...

I am asking if you'll consider helping by donating in support of our efforts, if your circumstances allow.  Seventy-five percent of all proceeds benefit local breast cancer education and screening programs.  This year, the affiliate invested $1.1 million into the local community to reach 25,000 women with breast cancer education and provide 8,000 free mammograms.  The remaining 25% will support innovative breast cancer research bringing us closer to the cure.
If you can help by donating, please do so by going to my page.

If donating doesn't work for you this time, that's absolutely okay!  Maybe you could keep Sug and I in your thoughts as we progress in our fundraising efforts, or maybe you can say a quick prayer that a cure is found?  Or maybe you'd prefer to see how you can help efforts in your local community, or find an event you can participate in. You can do so by clicking HERE.  

Thank you all for your friendship and well wishes, and for supporting us in whatever way works for you.  Knowing you guys have our backs is truly special.  

I'll keep you posted on how we do, and of course, as we are planning to deck ourselves and the horses out in all manner of embarrassing pink frippery, there will be pictures.  Lots of pictures.  If you have any ideas on how we can accessorize, please feel free to share your suggestions!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Another Life Lesson Learned...

Mad Mare.
You know those days where you just don't seem to get much accomplished?  This would be one of them for me.  I think the highlight of the day was a conversation I had with my son over breakfast this morning.

I've just returned from a 4-day business trip, and he asked if I was happy to have gone to see the horses last night, even though I did not ride.  "Of course," was the reply, as it's just good to be able to kiss on the horses.  We laughed at how Sug did her "mad" routine with me: When I've been away for a while and first approach her she pins her ears and refuses to look at me.  After I've grovelled enough (usually by feeding her several treats) she whips her head around, ears still pinned, and starts licking me for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile James just puts his big ol' head in my arms and lets me hug and kiss on him all I want.

They are different that way.  Sug likes attention, but on her terms and only when she wants it.  She's not a hugger; she will, however, lick you to death when she's in the mood. James is ready for a cuddle any time and would simply love to be a lap-pony.

Noah asked if that bothered me, and I said no.  I told him that horses are like people in that respect.  Some are really affectionate and huggy and outgoing, and others like to show affection in their way and at their moment.  Noah could understand that, as he can be affectionate, but is not typically a hugger and is only affectionate when he is comfortable with the situation and the person.  Sophie, on the other hand, is a hugger and would squeeze and love on anybody 24/7 if you let her.

I told Noah you have to respect the horse's or person's comfort level, and look for their cues, and then interact with them in the way that works best for them.  Trying to get a horse, or a person, for that matter, to change for you is like trying to spit in the wind. Just doesn't work.

Not bad for an exchange before I even had a cup of coffee in me, huh?  I have to admit, I'm pretty proud of myself. LOL.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Flying the Horsie Freak Flag High...

You know those horse people things we do that other folks don't get, like half-halting grocery carts, poking people and clucking at them to get them to move over, counting strides between cars on the highway, and seeing no issue with washing human clothes and horsie clothes in the same load, much less the same washing machine?

I have two more for you:

1) This past week I was at the gym. A quick look to either side and in front of me confirmed that everyone else was either watching the bank of TVs, or reading Men's Health, Shape, Self, Prevention, or some other gym-appropriate reading material. I'd brought my own reading material from home, and was (can you believe it?) the only one catching up on the latest issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. I know-seriously? Don't these people appreciate good literature??

2) This past Sunday I flew out to Las Vegas on a business trip. Miracle of miracles, I arrived at the airport with time to spare, and so parked at the gate, fired up the old iPad, and commenced watching some Global Champions Tour live streaming. And I was into it, riding every stride with the riders and
exclaiming with disappointment when appropraite. (Umm, that means I was saying "Crap!" or "Shit!" each time a rail fell). After a while I realized I'd drawn a crowd. Several guys, no doubt thinking I was watching the NFL, were standing in a semi-circle behind my seat, no doubt pretty darn confused when they realized the athletes I was focused on were 4-legged, not two. One guy even asked me, "Who's playing?" Ummm, ponies vs. poles???

How would you have answered that one?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Our Gallop On...

Tucker: Gee, Sugar, you're so pretty.  Sugar: Nom. Nom. Nom.
Oh for cripes sake, I cannot believe so much time has since I've posted anything. The spirit is willing but the fingers and mind are, well, weak.  I swear upon a stack of Hunter Seat Equitations that I will do better, promise!

Anyway, I have something fun to write about!  You know how Denny Emerson and George Morris often point out how riders today spend so much time in rings or showing that they never ride out on terrain?  Well, call me old school, but I love what these guys have to say, and though I've always been big on riding out, this summer I've made a concerted effort to do much more of it.

Christie Hoffman Farm Park is just a quick ride away from our barn, and it's got scads of trails and open fields to ride through and loads of obstacles to jump over.Every year the Tewksbury Trail Association does a trail pace there, and this year my blogging buddy Marissa and her horse Tucker teamed up with Sug and I to do it.

Marissa and I get along like peas and carrots, and our horses get along great as well.  Tucker adores Sugar, and Sugar is content to be adored while she eats all of Tucker's hay.  Win-win, right?  So off we go, mimosas at the ready for a post-ride celebration.  It's one of those gorgeous September days, the kind where the sun is out and it's comfortable but not cool.  We set off like a giddy Thelma and Louise before things got ugly.

What?? This thing is how many miles???Did you pack rations?

Sug is 17, and the ride was supposed to be 8.5 miles or so.  We'd done a lot of prep-work, but I was still concerned about taking it easy and going at a pace that was easy for her.  Well, Madame Mare and her buddy had other ideas.  They wanted to trot, and not just trot, they wanted to TROT. As in, "Here's at my best Totilas impression, Mom!" I can't get my mare to lengthen at home to save my life, so of course the irony was killing me.  Then we got to an open field, Marissa and I just looked at each other, and to tell the truth, I think the horses were galloping before we asked them.  We were laughing like loons,  Sug was tossing her head, and Tucker was doing his best Seabiscuit impersonation.

Nah, we're not having any fun at all.

We galloped a lot that afternoon. Basically, we were totally accessing our inner 13 year old and having a blast remembering all the fun stuff we used to think nothing of doing.  We'd walk for a while, then turn into an open field. I'd ask Sug how she felt about a gallop, and she'd be three strides into one before i finished the question.

"Wanna gallop?"
"Wanna jump that?"
"Hell yes!"

Ambassadors for equestrian sport.

We met cool people, ran into old friends, and tailgated with some folks who were new to the neighborhood and wanted to get a better look at the horses.  They had mimosas, so of course Marissa and I had to go say howdy.  They also had carrots, so Tucker and Sug were happy to stop as well.  Tucker took his carrots like a perfect gentleman, and Sug did her best Great White Shark impersonation.  We posed for pics with every single person there and then headed out on our way. (Clearly we were not worried about time allowed!)

We had some really funny moments at some of the streams and water obstacle.  Not shocking, as Sug is somewhat aqua phobic, but she's been getting better.  In the first part of the course we had to walk through a stream that was about 10' wide, then do a long loop and cross back over it.  We've practiced crossing this stream a lot during our weekend trail rides, so had no problems.

However, when we got to a 6' wide stream at the bottom of a deep gully, Sug clearly felt it was time to rethink this trail pace silliness.  Tucker plowed through with no issues and waited on the other uphill bank.  Sug hemmed, hawed, debated, demurred and fussed.  I looked at Marissa and said "She's gonna jump" at the same moment that Sug rocket-launched herself skyward.  She landed scrambling on the other bank, with  me hanging halfway out the side door and scrambling back into the tack.

She did the same thing over over a teensy tiny trickle of water about 20 minutes later, although this time she didn't launch quite so far and I didn't come at all close to buying real estate.  All went well until we got to the finish and the water hazard. Now, The Sainted Mare is a jumper, and as such, feels it is her duty to go over water, not through it.  She also has a marked mistrust of any water she can;t see the bottom of.  We got to this tiny banked pond and she said, "Oh, Hell No!" 

Tucker, prince that he is, trotted right through.  Sug pulled an Oscar-worthy drama llama routine on the bank, prompting Marissa and Tucker to circle back and rescue us with a lead through.  Sug did her best to jump the water, and we would up landing with a crashing splash in the middle of it.  She sniffed the water, snorted, sniffed it again, and leaped to the other bank.  Did I mention there was a photographer getting all of these shenanigans on film?  Priceless.

Sug: Are you sure there aren't any alligators?   Tucker: None.  And there are no cougars up on that hill, either.

Pongo, the cutest beastie at the event.

Denny and George are right, riding out is a hell of a lot of fun!  I'm still grinning, three days later.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

McLain Ward's Next Show Jumper?

Sophie was in great form today.  It was her birthday, so why shouldn't she be?  She wanted to go on a trail ride before her both sets of Grandparents came over to celebrate, so we took James and Sug on a nice long wander and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

She was still feeling "horsey" when we got home, and despite the fact that she consumed almost an entire tray of bean dip with half a bag of Tostitos, she pulled out her jumps and showed us what kind of show jumper she'd make.

I'm heading off to cover the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix and the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix at HITS Saugerties tomorrow, and she was inspired by that, raising the sticks and telling me she was going to be McLain Ward's next show jumper.

She cleared  3' 7.5", which impressed the heck out of all of us.(We were not quite so active. We sat on the porch drinking adult beverages and stuffing our faces).  I asked her if she thought she could jump that high with McLain on her back.  She didn't even need to think about it.  "No problem."  No confidence issues there.

Check out Sophie's Mini-Prix below:

Here she is clearing the 3-stride combination, which I think was set around 3'3":

Makes you tired just watching her, doesn't it?   Her goal, she tells me, is to be jumping 5'3 by age 14, two years from now. I know what kind of determination lives inside this kid,  and I'm not about to doubt her.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Whistle While You Work. I Dare You.

I might be late to the party because apparently this has been around since 2009, but I saw it on the United States Pony Club Facebook site today and it's too darn good not to share!

I've had a mare for some time now and although cleaning her lady bits ain't fun, it wasn't until we leased James that I was reminded how nasty willy washing can be.  That being said, I never though to write an ode to it to help pass the time, à la Disney's Giselle in Enchanted or the Seven Dwarves in Snow White.

Holy smokes, sportsfans, it's a Ding-Dong-Sing-A-Long!

Until I saw this, I thought the funniest thing I'd seen regarding sheath cleaning was my very proper Mother's face when she stopped by the barn one day and found with my arm up to the elbow in my gelding's junk.

That might be a close second to this.

Go ahead, tell me that's not going to be in your head all day.

You're welcome. :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Horse Family On Vacation: Part Two

Look!  Horses on Hilton Head!
It's disgustingly early and I'm woefully under-caffeinated, but I'll try to get a few thoughts down since, well, there's not much else to do on this plane except mouth breath and hope for this ride to be over. On one hand it can be a good thing to be located in the back next to the lavatory, especially if you're a middle aged mother of two (know what I mean, ladies?). On the other hand, the atmosphere can be a touch, ummm, gag-worthy.

Anywhooo, so here are some of the other ways we managed to make our non-horsey vacation a bit more, for lack of a better word, horsey:

1) My son and I were bike riding and he kept trying to ride without the use of his hands, to no avail. He kept drifting precariously to the right. I made the connection that Sugar and James drift right when he rides them, and -LIGHTBULB!- came to the conclusion it might be because he is weighting his right seat bone too much. I asked him to tighten up his core a bit and concentrate on putting a little more weight into his left seat bone, and lo and behold, after a few aborted attempts he was able to ride no-handed in a straight line.

Noah and Sophie riding "Julien" and "James the 2nd"

2) Sophie has declared that my lucky number is 4. This pronouncement is based on the fact that my average per hole mini-golf score is 4, which she says is obviously because horses have 4 legs. You get the connection, right? Clear as mud.

3) On our last day we managed to drag my husband to an actual barn. One of our previous trainers had moved to a lovely facility about 30 minutes from where we were staying, so on our way out of town we stopped by to say hi and see her new digs. As the kids and I walked into the barn we all inhaled deep breaths of that wonderful horse smell, and both turned to me and voiced what I was thinking, "Boy, it sure smells good in here, and boy, do we miss our horses." So we loved on every horse who was amenable to it, offering scratches and nose kisses and peppermints and just breathing in the magic that is horse.

Sophie the Girl meets Sophie the Pony
4) Our flight home was at an ungodly early hour, so we elected to spend the night before near the Savannah airport. It seemed like a great opportunity to see a bit of this historic and lovely city, and we took one of the walking tours of the haunted houses of old Savannah. Savannah is a beautiful city, clean, with wide streets and moss-draped live oak trees. Horse drawn carriage tours are a big tourist draw, and of course we needed to walk up and smuggle peppermints to as many of the cart horses as we could. I'm not a city lover, but I could probably live in Savannah, as at least the historic center smells more of horse (and equine by-products) than of car exhaust, sidewalk food vendor grease, and too many people in close quarters.

5) Plane flights are a great place to read. On our flight home my husband found himself with nothing to read and no in-flight movie, so he leaned over to see what might be of interest in my stack of magazines. "Practical Horseman, Practical Horseman, and Chronicle of the Horse," he intoned with dejection. "I have the US Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship in my bag, if you'd rather that," I mentioned helpfully. He elected to nap rather than expand his body of equine knowledge. Silly man.

So there you have it. How a horsey family manages to take a week away from the horses and infuse it with at least a tiny taste of things equine.

Would be better utilized as a jump field or pasture, right?

Really?? This even needs to be said??